Your crops have been harvested, and the exuberant summer colour has faded from your borders – but don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s all over until next spring. Autumn is a busy time in the garden, clearing away the decaying vegetation of the summer and preparing the garden for the cold winter months ahead. Let the big clear up begin!
By September, the days become shorter, and light is increasingly valuable resource. Removing the shade paint in your greenhouse will maximise the sunlight available to your plants. A bit of scrubbing with some hot water will bring the glass up sparkling clean. Pay attention to any gutters where trapped leaves will prevent rain water escaping from the roof of your greenhouse. Use this opportunity to replace any broken or damaged glass too.
Since you are already cleaning the outside of the greenhouse, it makes sense to tackle the inside as well to help reduce overwintering pests and diseases. Remove the plants before sweeping out any plant debris. Disinfect the greenhouse paths and staging, and the inside of the glass too. Use a hot solution of garden disinfectant such as Jeyes Fluid. You will need to ventilate your greenhouse well over the next couple of days to dry it thoroughly.
Throughout the quiet winter months make an effort to wash out pots and seed trays in preparation for the spring sowing and planting. Don’t forget that you can still sow plenty of vegetables to grow in winter. Click here to take a look at our 'Top 10 vegetables to grow over winter' article.
Autumn provides an ideal opportunity to move poorly placed plants, and divide overcrowded perennials while the soil is still warm. Cut back faded perennials to 5cm above ground level, but don’t be too tidy - some perennials have attractive seed heads that look wonderful covered in autumn dew, and provide handsome winter silhouettes. They will also provide shelter for overwintering insects. Once your borders are clean and tidy, spread a thick layer of compost, bark chips or well rotted manure across them. Don’t worry about digging it in - let the worms do the hard work for you.
If your lawn looks slightly worse for wear then autumn is the perfect time to revitalise it. Remove thatch (old grass clippings) and moss using a spring tined rake and add it to the compost heap. If you have large amounts of moss then you may want to use a moss killer first. In areas that receive a lot of wear (such as paths and play areas) the soil can become compacted. Improve drainage and aeration by making deep holes with the prongs of a garden fork every 10cm across the entire area.
A sandy top dressing can be brushed in afterwards, followed by an application of autumn lawn feed to prepare your lawn for the cold winter months. Autumn is a great time to lay new turf too, giving it plenty of time to establish before next summer.
Leafmould adds structure and organic matter to your soil. Most leaves from deciduous trees and shrubs will rot down to make lovely leaf compost in a couple of years, although some leaves will take longer than others. Oak, alder, beech and hornbeam rot fairly quickly while sycamore, walnut, horse chestnut and sweet chestnut may take a little longer. Shredding the leaves first will help to speed things up. Evergreens are best shredded and added to the compost heap as they are very slow to decompose.
Construct a large bin out of wire mesh in a sheltered spot to collect your leaves in, or if space is limited simply use plastic bin liners with holes punch through the sides to let in the air. Fill the leaf bin/ bags with leaves and sprinkle with water. Tie the tops of bags and give them a good shake before stacking them out of sight and forgetting them for 2 years. If you are using a leaf bin you will need to remember to dampen the leaves occasionally if they become too dry. Once the leaves reach a crumbly texture they can be spread as a mulch throughout your borders.
The autumn clear up of borders and vegetable plots always generates a lot of plant material for the compost heap. Autumn is an ideal time to clear out last year’s compost and use it around the garden to make room in compost bins for this season’s garden waste. If your compost isn’t quite ready then turn it to improve decomposition, and create a new heap - you can never have too much compost!
Evergreens form the backbone of the garden, providing structure and year round interest, so the more evergreens in your garden, the better it will look in winter! With warm soil and cooler conditions, autumn is the perfect time to fill those gaps in your borders. Sarcococca and Daphne will bring glossy green leaves and beautifully fragrant flowers in the depths of winter while the rest of your garden is dormant. For an elegant larger shrub try spring flowering Camellias or Fatsia for its large architectural foliage.
For a more formal look, why not invest in some box or yew topiary. Lonicera nitida, Bay and Holly can also be clipped into formal shapes and make excellent evergreen hedges too.
Make sure that you lift those tender species such as Begonias, Dahlias, and Cannas before the first frosts threaten. Cut back the stems and gently lift the tubers/rhizomes from the ground. Clean the soil from them and store them in trays of dry compost or sand, with just the top of crown visible. The trays can be kept in a cool, frost free place over winter until they can be replanted when the spring arrives. In very mild areas it may be possible to protect tender species without lifting them. Simply cover the crowns with a thick blanket of mulch.
Decomposing leaves can turn your pond water foul and block filters on pumps. Save effort later on by catching leaves before they fall into your pond. Simply spread a fine meshed net across the pond and pin it down with bricks. The leaves can be added straight to the compost heap or collected up to make leaf mould.
Before you store your lawn mower at the back of the shed, it is well worth sending it for a service to ensure that it is in perfect condition when you need it next spring. Shears and secateurs need sharpening - you can do this yourself or send them away if you prefer. Spades, forks and other tools will benefit from a good wash. Dry them thoroughly and oil the metal parts to prevent rust. Wooden handles can be cleaned and protected with linseed oil.
Plants and gardens have always been a big part of my life. I can remember helping my Dad to prick out seedlings, even before I could see over the top of the potting bench. As an adult, I trained at Writtle College where I received my degree, BSc. (Hons) Horticulture. After working in a specialist plantsman's nursery, and later, as a consulting arboriculturalist, I joined Thompson & Morgan in 2008. Initially looking after the grounds and coordinating the plant trials, I now support the web team offering horticultural advice online.